Second Life Creators Have Not Stopped Believing

VR headsets could give new life to the Second Life concept-for better or worse.



I was in grad school during the time period when Second Life was going to change everything. Created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, the massive online virtual world actually launched in 2003, but it wasn't until around 2006 that everyone collectively lost their minds over this shit. Harvard law professors started teaching classes in Second Life. Major companies like IBM, Coca-Cola, and Adidas spent millions setting up a Second Life presence and Reuters even launched a virtual bureau there. "It's as if the moon suddenly had oxygen," wrote Frank Rose for Wired in 2007. "Nobody wants to miss out." 

But once they got there, nobody wanted to stay. A friend wrote her grad-school thesis on Second Life economies, making $2 in real money as a virtual furry stripper but ultimately coming away unimpressed. I never joined myself, but I used to watch her explore. The world of Second Life was paved with very, very empty roads. 

Though millions of people created avatars, many came back infrequently, if at all. "The reality doesn't justify the excitement," wrote Rose, in a publication that had, not a year earlier, published a 12-page "travel guide" to Second Life. "Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn't much to do," which "may explain why more than 85 percent of the avatars created have been abandoned." The only spots that really drew a crowd were the virtual sex clubs. 

As of summer 2014, "estimates put the current active user-base around 600,000 members," wrote Laura E. Hall at The Atlantic. Far from its heyday, although "the sheer variety of environments, and the obvious care that people put into them, remains stunning." 

But now Second Life, or at least something quite similar, could get another shot. Linden Lab is hoping that virtual-reality goggles of the Oculus Rift variety will give the concept whatever it was lacking. "Codenamed Project Sansar, it will begin testing with a handful of players in the coming days," Quartz reports.

The company hopes to have an alpha version available by the time Facebook-owned Oculus launches its consumer headset early next year, and to commercially release the game before the end of 2016.

Some of Sansar's rules will be slightly different, and the immersive VR graphics will be far superior (though it will still work on regular computers and mobile devices too). But like Second Life, Sansar isn't a game with a clear objective. There are no bosses to defeat or princesses to rescue. The goal is to reach not a million users, but "tens, if not hundreds, of millions." Instead, people, playing as virtual representations of themselves, will carry out day-to-day, often fantastical, lives in a made-up world. They'll explore, socialize, have cybersex, make art, perform, create businesses, build houses, go shopping, pay taxes.

In other words… Linden Lab learned nothing from the great Second Life fiasco. But maybe we all did? It will be interesting to see if colleges, corporations, and others take the bait again.  

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  1. create businesses, build houses, go shopping, pay taxes

    How fun!

    1. Exactly. Isn’t the point of virtual reality to escape “real” reality? I’m not going into 2L to pay taxes!

  2. If Linden Lab can come up with a way for me to hunt a lion in Africa, I am in.

  3. …Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn’t much to do…

    Like like real life.

  4. Maybe it’ll be enough to bring the Patriotic Nigras back.

    1. The room was invaded by flying penises

      Or as I like to call it, Tuesday morning. As Tundra referenced, it is like a Stephenson novel.

    2. Linked there:

      A griefer derives pleasure primarily or exclusively from the act of annoying other users

      Reason #4696 I don’t play online games.

      1. I don’t blame you. As fun as GTA 5 can be, when playing online multiplayer you’re guaranteed to get dickheads who want to do nothing but kill other players.

        Although, there was one time where hackers/modders rode around in an invincible glowing bus, yelling at all players to “get on the party bus” and then showered everyone with money bags. That was pretty nice.

        1. Could be that killing other players is more challanging and fun than playing the game.

  5. Second Life was the darling of many a TED futurist. So much hype and so little reality.


  7. Have they even.learnef what did work?

    If the sex areas are the only thing that were successful in Second Life, and Oculus apparently has restrictions on that kind of usage, what is the attraction that is going to get hundreds of millons of users to this new thing?

    1. Afaik, oculus only has restrictions on its own store. It’s just a fancy display and input device, so they couldn’t really stop you from looking at porn if you wanted. That said, fuck second life.

  8. Huh. I had forgotten about Second Life. Now I will forget about it again.

    1. Yup, felt very much like every other phenomenon tied to the Journey song.

      I kinda feel the same way about VR headsets too. They still feel… forced.

      A Gernsback Anachronism sort of thing.

  9. One thing I remember from being ‘in there’ was the idea of a money bomb…the ‘sploder…in some of the bars. Making it rain so to speak for those who needed subsistence credits. Otherwise, inane chat and boring spaces can’t compete with live streaming web cams, snapchats and such. I’ll stick to my First Life.

  10. Minecraft makes money hand over fist and it’s a game about nothing as well.

    So maybe Linden Labs has learned something after all.

    1. My kids have been obsessed with Minecraft for a couple of years now. I don’t freaking get it. I mean I understand why someone would spend hours and hours playing GTA, Assassin’s Creed, CoD etc. But it is like a Doom engine with no blood or demons (I know there are mods with Slendermen and stuff).

      OTOH: Virtual reality goggles and virtual sex clubs? THIS is the future!

      1. Yeah my boy was captivated by it at the (bare bones neighborhood) summer camp we just sent him to for a couple weeks. He just loves building stuff in the game. He can talk about it all day. Round the house though, video games are only allowed on planes, so he won’t see much of it until next summer.

        1. Round the house though, video games are only allowed on planes

          So, not around the house? Maybe you live in a hangar.

      2. Think of it like Legos where you don’t have to worry about running out of pieces.

      3. It’s because it’s basically virtual Lego.

    2. Minecraft is a soul-sucker. One of those games where you can play for sixteen hours every day for a week, and in addition to bedsores you’ll still have a huge in-game To Do list.

      Soul. Sucker.

      1. I tried it out and was able to resist it very easily. I guess I don’t have the minecraft gene.

      2. I think the most disturbing aspect of Minecraft is the music.

  11. Is it really a “fiasco”? 600K users is nothing to sneeze at. Unless they’re losing money.

    1. This was my thought. Maybe in the online game world, that’s trivial. I suppose it would be for a network TV show. But for a book or magazine, that’d be great.

    2. Exactly. Not only does Linden Lab make millions from SL, thousands of SL residents make money inworld through creating products (selling them), renting virtual land to others, musicians giving online performances (they get paid tips), etc. The only fiasco I see here is that the writer (Brown) is paid to churn out such hack-pieces.

  12. Here’s how to make second life interesting:

    Step 1: Make Second Life the only means to legally purchase booze.
    Step 2: Create a Second Life government the controls how and when people are allowed to purchase booze.

    1. Why stop at booze?

      /Second Life

  13. Literally never heard of it. Second Life? That’s what you get when you’re brought back from the dead, like Nikki Sixx after he died in the hospital from ODing on heroin.

  14. My ex-wife was big into Second Life. She was also extremely pissed at me that I had the gall to occasionally (read: frequently!) check out porn. That she would spend entire evenings “hanging out” with people parading online as body-builders with dragon-cocks, boob-people, and avatars who were basically the manifestation of a 13 year old boy’s id never clicked in her mind that it was far more graphiclly pornish than anything found on YouPorn.

    We had the misfortune of meeting in real life one of the couples she hung out with in the game. They were both “disabled” and spent their entire day playing this game because their SSDI check and other welfare they were receiving paid for everything else. I had to actually take my ex’s ATM card from her because she was going to, happily, give her “friend” a couple hundred dollars because they needed it more.

    1. That your ex-wife had poor judgement isn’t indicative of Second Life. Anymore than than someone in the physical world purposely hanging out in ghettos with crackheads is an example of what “real life” is like.

  15. Nowadays the closest thing to Second Life is probably the Garry’s Mod role playing servers. And they tend to be vastly more interesting than Second Life because they’re about stuff like meth cooking, living in North Korea and slavery.

  16. But now Second Life, or at least something quite similar, could get another shot. Linden Lab is hoping that virtual-reality goggles of the Oculus Rift variety will give the concept whatever it was lacking.

    So you’ll be able to do nothing and see vast emptiness in 3d?

  17. The world of Second Life was paved with very, very empty roads.

    I think this metaphor fails because empty roads are, like, good.

    Paved with roads that lead nowhere?

    1. I think the “It’s as if the moon suddenly had oxygen,” quote was surprisingly accurate though.

  18. What an intellectually lazy trash piece. Was this written as click-bait? Because, the writer has no knowledge of Second Life, except outdated, second-hand tripe written by her grad-school friend, and a few out of context quotes.

    It’s a common misunderstanding that the creatively-challenged types have, that there’s nothing “to do” in Second Life. SL is a free “tabula rasa” environment. It’s the ultimate libertarian type creative space for those who want the freedom to make, create, or be anything they wish. That many people fail to realize this doesn’t change that fact. Second Life is created by the residents, there’s no master plan, no company game that is followed. That level of unprecedented freedom is scary and confusing for most people, so they leave to seek familiar online venues rife with rules and narrow goals. But, that’s ok, as Second Life has been profitable all this time with a small creative class of people, and will continue to be so.

    Linden Lab isn’t counting on Oculus Rift to help them grow, as OR is only an option, not a req

  19. Linden Lab isn’t counting on Oculus Rift to help them grow, as OR is only an option, not a prerequisite. Nor, is Second Life a “great Second Life fiasco”. Instead it’s a successful business model that generates millions of dollars not only for its investors, but also through being a creative platform whereby thousands of people earn a living creating art, music, and products.

    Non-creative types don’t understand the unparalleled freedom that SL offers, and yes, they leave to for more structured, ruled, and controlled environments. But, for those who want to be able to determine their surroundings, their goals, and make their own visions, SL will continue to be profitable and the best venue for creating.

    For those who want to learn more about Second Life, here’s a series of videos that highlights some of what the creative SL residents do:

    Hmm, Reason doesn’t like us to post links? Gah. Ok, Google “drax files world makers”, and the top hit will take you to a series of videos.

    1. SL has some things going for it. I played for 8 years. There are some fabulous artistic people on there. Some of the builds are so intricate and amazing that you can be rendered speechless. I’ve spent hours building myself.

      But there’s no denying that it’s made of huge swaths of emptiness. So great, yeah, it pulls the creative types in and we stay, but where’s everyone else? I don’t think people are scared of the open-ended environment, there’s just not much to do outside of creating and shopping. If there were more MadPea types SL could pull in so much more.

      SL is niche. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t think the article is too far off. It’s true. Everyone celebrated Sl as what it “could” be, because it could be beyond amazing, and now it’s just not. It never lived up to it’s potential and there are no indications that LL has learned from the failures of SL. Tbh, It really just seems like LL doesn’t give a shit.

      1. Who do you mean by “everyone else”? Is there a place (besides Facebook) where everyone ‘else” is? Even FB can’t claim such a distinction. You’re mistaking early adopter media hype, with real user expectations. A virtual world that is created by the participants will never have as many users, as most people just want simple, easy entertainment.

        Yes, I do think that people are “scared” of an open-ended environment. It’s much easier to go off and “play” some, “game” where the content is already created, the rules are set, and you give up control for security. (a statist type environment ; )

        Whether LL “get’s it” or has learned over the years isn’t relevant to the fact that the article is a hack piece, written by someone who hasn’t a clue about SL. Brown is off the mark on user experience, her silly second-hand anecdotal “furry stripper” line, dismissing that fact that many people earn real life money in SL.

        Her, “The only spots that really drew a crowd were the virtual sex clubs.” type crap comments, which come from lack of real SL knowledge. Two nights ago I was at a music venue in SL, and over 53 people were there to hear live music. There aren’t many “real life” clubs that pack in over 53 people on a week-night to hear live music. That’s just one tiny example of how clueless the writer is. She hasn’t the professionalism to write about something she actually knows, but tossed off this piece to get her quota.

        1. How many people were in that club, even on that sim before the music started? I’ve seen tons of clubs that are full up when there’s a musician, but the rest of the time it’s empty. But you know where you can find TONS of people? You could spend all day at a sex sim and it’s got people the whole time. I really didn’t see anything she said as wrong at all. Ok, the furry stripper making $2, she must have been doing it in the wrong place, the few I know seem to be doing fairly well for themselves. As far as making money there? So what. Honestly, a lot of those people can ONLY make money in SL. I’ve run a RL business and those people wouldn’t last a second in a real world business environment. The majority have no concept of proper business ethic or etiquette. Buskers make money on the street, doesn’t mean it’s a great career or that they’re going to be a rock star.

          Your experience is not everyone’s and insulting people as being less than you because they don’t get how awesome your toy is doesn’t really make people want to listen to you. They aren’t going to “get” SL because you insult their intelligence because they’d rather play WoW. I’ve been there for years and the people on SL aren’t actually any better or more intelligent than here. Yes, even those who are so “artistic”.

          1. So, let’s see you write:

            “I’ve run a RL business and those people wouldn’t last a second in a real world business environment. The majority have no concept of proper business ethic or etiquette. Buskers make money on the street, doesn’t mean it’s a great career or that they’re going to be a rock star.”

            Which is you insulting other SL residents and business people. Yet, you imagine that I’ve insulting someone?! *laughing* Uh, no. I called out the BS that the writer has written, and called out her lack of professionalism in not writing from experience, but second-hand anecdotal stories, and copy/paste out of context snippets from other people’s writing. Yes, I think that’s “hack” writing.

            I disagree with your assessment regarding the type of people in world vs “here” as in general commentators or Reason, of elsewhere on the web. (I’ve been a Reason reader for years btw ; ) Second life residents have a higher % that are a creator-class of people. It’s how the content is created. You know this. It’s that simple.

            Stop trying to take umbrage over something that isn’t about you. I commented about the writer and her crappy ill-conceived and poorly researched piece.

    2. Here’s the link:

      The Drax Files

      That’s a series of videos about Second Life residents, and shows a tiny bit of what they do in Second Life.

  20. Oculus limiting sex? Jeez, I’m not into virtual sex, but I know folks who are and I can say, they will not buy the Oculus. Oculus is just shooting themselves in the foot. Sex sells. A few geeks will be on it because it’s new and awesome. The video gamers will think it’s the shit (I know as far as that goes I’m crossing my fingers for a serious level of awesome), but some other company will make their own “Oculus” and not put any limits on it and bye bye Oculus. And they’ll probably do it better than Oculus because cooter in high def will be very important to them..

  21. How to Get Everything You Want in Life
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